Sunday, May 15, 2011

Addicted to Dependency-marking

The cycle of revisions I've been working on in the last year and a half or so is winding down to a fixed set of features that I really like. But I have found there's one thing I've had a hard time giving up: case marking. A hefty chunk of what I'm aiming for is inspired by various areal features of North American native languages, where case marking (and dependency marking in general) is not exactly common.

Removing cases gives me deep anxieties, even though I know intellectually a language is perfectly capable of working fine without them, even if you have a nonconfigurational syntax. I spent part of today working through the behavior of applicatives, and have finally reassured myself multiple objects without overt marking can work just fine. Thinking about reasonable discourse situations, rather than concocted grammar puzzles of the sort one finds in old Latin textbooks, is a better guide to where real ambiguities can arise.


  1. I'm always on the look out for reports of languages that do remarkably little marking of core argument (SVO) in the hopes of finding a "simple" language, but when I review the grammar of these languages, they tend to have so many other mechanisms going on that marking SVO feels like an unnecessarily nicety, the same way that marking inherently owned/not-inherently owned things would be in English. How much work is the verb doing in the grammar you are working on?

  2. The verb is doing a lot: obligatory subject and object marking for transitive verbs, in addition to a few valency-increasing applicatives. The lower down the animacy hierarchy it is, the more likely an object is to be incorporated, which reduces the valency by one, but that still leaves people (what most of us talk about most of the time) floating around outside the verb unmarked.

    Things get tricky when you try to talk about several people individually. I think I now have a deeper understanding of the pressures that lead to obviation.